Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Kitchen Table Talk: Critical Space to Think

Here I am in my former kitchen. I did a lot of cooling out, writing and critical thinking there in 2006 in Charlotte, NC. I have since blessed and said goodbye to that home that my daughter and I built (had built) and which we lived in for five years as three generations with my grandson. I am now living in a tiny dormitory arrangement about to make still another move which will be my fourth since January, 2007. I am conjuring up my next residence in South Africa.

Kitchen Table Talk and Reflections
There is something to be said about having the luxury of leisure that includes critical space to do some critical thinking. Now one could be unemployed and have plenty of time to think. But that is a stressfull externally imposed type of leisure. I am talking about being able to spend some quality time reading, writing, reflecting and doing activism, that is, working in whatever way and using whatever gifts you have been blessed with to uniquely contribute toward healing the planet. And, of course, self care is an important part of that work.

Yesterday and today, I have set aside my fellowship application and I have gone through my notes from conferences I have attended. I transcribed the notes to share with others on my blog. One of the research discussions I had the pleasure of attending this past year was sponsored by the Center for Race, Class and Politics here at the University of Chicago. I am sure that I massacred their name. I apologize. The point is that Cathy Cohen, PhD and former Director of the Center was presenting research on her current book. She is the author of, Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics. She also served as co-editor of Women Transforming Politics. The book she is currently working had a working title of, The Conception of Black Moral Panic. It was a fascinating process for me to be a part of and observe. It is like having ones own "think tank" to critique a research idea with people from different disciplines. Cohen was linvestigating how young black people think about their world. She contends that the outward panic of middle class blacks about youth really signals an internal panic. This internal panic is fueled by the following: threat of undermining their (parents and societal) respectability issues that are often incompatible; perceived counter cultural behavior on the part of youth; and feelings that youth are out of control and often acting sexually inappropriately. Thus, the recent outcry by blacks like Bill Cosby personifies this moral panic of the black middle class. In response, the black middle class has assumed the role of "generational policing." The form that this policing often takes is to put pressure on themselves and their children to "help our children do better." That might take the form of academic pressures and incentives. This in and of itself I would assume is not such a negative thing. However, the second type that Cohen identified that I am placing some judgment on is, more intrusive and tends to result in negative encounters, that, "keep them under control and protect class interests." This I suspect is where a lot of the demonizing of youth by the black middle class surfaces. Furthermore, the black middle class has created its own "politics of respectability" that they expect youth to adhere to. Music, particularly hip hop music was one of Cohen's examples where there is ample evidence that there clearly is a generational divide that results in dissidence and hostility between middle class blacks and youth. While there is a range of violence depicted in hip hop music, it also is a celebration of youth culture that even marginalized youth culture embraces. Yet, how many of us old heads look at it like take?

Cohen's research indicates that 70% of all women believe images of women are too violent in music. Forty percent of young people believe adults over 40 don't respect them. "They see us as the future and as a threat." Cohen emphasized her belief that "young people tell the most honest and open story's " about our/their lives.

One of the notions that was considered is that the stakes are different for the black middle class. They perceive youth as threatening their stability. But they are also concerned about black youth perceived inability to function in a hostile and racist environment that exploits consumer potential but will also be very intolerant of acting out behavior which they use different standards for white white. Two factors that the group decided are different for youth of today and in past years is the absence of a movement and the use of television and technology that bombards them with instant images of materialism and sexual behavior . Thus, the denigration of black women has no familiar historical context that allows youth links to these racial/racist stereotypes that are steeped in a less familiar Jim Crow mentality. Furthermore, there is no control of these images.

The moral panic that occurs as a result of narratives of pathology, state oppression and the perceived need for internal policing from the black middle class poses a moral dilemma and a generational divide between youth, their parents and society. What black adults want are better education, jobs and their children to make better decisions on their own. There was no discussion about what youth wanted that I recall.

Cohen's multi-level analysis was a helpful way to approach such a complex issue as how youth think. At the same time she looked at how and why the black middle class thinks the way it does. Look for her book. I can't tell you its name because some of the feedback she received was the need to change the name of the book. "Moral Panic" and even the word "panic" was not an accurate depiction of what she was addressing and some felt it was to reactive.

What a wonderful process for scholars. I love this process!

You know I have to close with an anecdote. My oldest daughter, Libra emailed me and a number of sista friends inviting a comparable process that allows them to use the group process to think through relationship issues, career issues and anything that requires more than just one perspective. I am proud of her recognition that collaboration and partnerships are required to make it in these complex times. Quiet as it is kept, not only does it take a village to raise a child it takes a village to keep each of us sane and whole in this life.

Well, that's it for now!
Blessings! Qiyamah A. Rahman

Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil

L-R Dr. Emily Townes and Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman in Chicago, Illinois at the Disciples Divinity House, the Disciples of Christ facility that houses its seminarians. A lecture and reception were held for Emiliy Townes summer, 2007

During a one and a half hour presentation Dr. Townes reminded the audience not to be afraid to address evil because evil and goodness sit side by side. She talked about the process of writing and publishing her most recent book, Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil. In other words, she investigates how evil is produced. She contends that this book is her "singularly important work." So I encourage everyone to get a copy and start reading.

"No one wanted to publish the book. . . it doesn't quite fit in the typical genre's," she said.
The book she maintained took her ten years to write and she admitted that it is easier to read aloud because it "speaks more easily" when it is read aloud than when read silently. The book she contends, "wrote itself" I was trying to think about evil in a linear way but it isn't linear. .

Townes encouraged the audience of seminarians, ministers, teachers and lovers of her books to, "be not daunted - keep a dictionary nearby. . .The entire book is counter memory. . We are inheritors of People of the Book . . .these stories remind us of who we are," she exclaimed.

Townes appears to use "counter memory" as an antidote to evil, that is, putting these images of good and bad to better understand them.

Townes asserted that it is important to look at the issues around us and refuse to accept the standard explanations. She cited the Don Imus controversy as a concrete example. The aftermath tried to make it about racism rather than the sexism it was she contended. . . One has to pay attention always. . . I have to pay attention," she stated . . "because memory is both fact and fiction."

Another example of memory being both fiction and truth is the cultural icon, Aunt Jemima that conjures up disdain for many blacks and for others fond memories. Many whites love her fatness, blackness, happy go lucky persona. But as Townes reminded us, Aunt Jemima is a lie! She appears in white women's magazines and emerges as memory. Somewhere in the midst of all of this is where we live our lives Townes reminded us.

"Every morning that I get up is an act of defiance. . . I don't want to participate in this (evil)," she asserted.

Thus, a counter memory to some of the socialization is the belief that you, I, we are children of God. This is what oppressed peoples have to know for themselves. These are our conversations for healing and wholeness. It is through constructing such narratives that we can explain HIV/AIDS using the lens of evil. But historically oppressed peoples everywhere were raised to be children of hope, otherwise, many of us could not get up in the morning. We have to counter the evil fiction with the power of myth and counter the mythology with fiction and vice a versa. The genius of listening to how we do things and how we process information clues us in on what myths we have internalized. Thus, as Townes stated, "knowing the history is as important as knowing the past because the future is dictated by both."

"It is the power of our minds to trump imagination . . . sometimes I sin and sometimes I don't," she offered, pushing us beyond our intellectual and emotional comfort zones with her "conversation starters."

She raised the question, "Why do we keep doing this?"

I pose a counter question - which it?

"I am layering things. I am using fiction writers because they put the world at a tilt. They give me just that angle (to examine things). . .

"If I knew then what I know now I would have picked my own cotton say, Sonia Sanchez.

Townes mentioned structured patterns of oppression which I didn't really understand, among many things. For example, treating our identities as uninterrogated coloredness reflects misbegotten attempts at solidarity. However, the rise of empire in the context of welfare policy reveals patterns, structures and institutions that allow us a look at phenomenon.

Perhaps once we read Townes book we will have some additional insights into her thoughts. Meanwhile, this is Qiyamah A. Rahman, reporting on life as I see, hear and filter it in this one moment of time from this one spot on the planet.

Peace out and Blessed Be!